“… it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).
Jesus said the most provocative things! But they were not the provocations of a lunatic. They were the words of One with authority from God. Throughout the first three sections, it is not just Jesus’ words that leave the crowds and his enemies in awe, but his very works. His words and works define His coming, the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The fourth section (Mark 6:30-8:30) pairs in the structure of the book with the second section (Mark 2:1-3:6).
I The King’s Arrival (Mark 1)
II The Eschatological Kingdom (Mark 2:1-3:6)
III The Conquering Kingdom (Mark 3:7-6:29)
II’ New Exodus (Mark 6:30-8:30)
I’ Following the King (Mark 8:31-16:8)
He leads the redeemed into the Kingdom through a new eschatological Exodus. The Jews were delivered from Egyptian bondage into the miniature typological kingdom in Canaan in the Old Covenant. But now the Servant of the Lord has come to bring the redeemed out of bondage and death into the eschatological Kingdom of God. As Isaiah promises, this deliverance is for Israel and the Gentiles. Mark makes this overwhelmingly clear in his arrangement of the fourth section. The New Exodus is presented twice in parallel: the first among the Jews (Mark 6:30-7:37), the second time among the Gentiles (Mark 8:1-30).
The New Exodus
A Feeding the Multitude (Mark 6:30-44)
B Crossing the Sea (Mark 6:45-56)
C The Pharisees (Mark 7:1-23)
D Bread (Mark 7:24-30)
E Healing (Mark 7:31-36)
F Confession of Faith (Mark 7:37)
A’ Feeding the Multitude (Mark 8:1-9)
B’ Crossing the Sea (Mark 8:10)
C’ The Pharisees (Mark 8:11-13)
D’ Bread (Mark 8:13-21)
E’ Healing (Mark 8:22-26)
F’ Confession of Faith (Mark 8:27-30)
The A and A’ parts give the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand respectively. As His ministry progressed in Galilee, the crowds pressed so that Jesus and the disciples didn’t have time to eat. They withdrew by boat, but the crowd ran around the lake and were waiting when they arrived! Jesus felt compassion because they were sheep with no shepherd. It was late and there was no food. Jesus, the Great Shepherd (Ezek 34:1-16; Num 27:16-17), seated them on the “green grass” (Mark 6:39) in “groups of hundreds and fifties” (Mark 6:40) and fed them. In the wilderness, Moses pled in desperation to God,
“Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’” (Num 11:13).
God answered and gave the manna. The One greater than Moses has come. As the Psalmist confesses,
“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Ps 23:1-2).
Here is the King who sets a table before them. The language harkens to Israel encamping by order of camp in hundreds and fifties (Ex 18:21). The A’ part gives the feeding of the four thousand in the Gentile Decapolis.
Jesus then sent the disciples into a storm on a boat (B). As they struggled in the middle of the night, Jesus saw them through the dark in a storm and walked out to the boat! But then Mark says,
“He intended to pass by them. 49 But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified” (Mark 6:48-50).
He was passing by them? They thought He was a ghost in terror! Immediately Jesus says,
“Take courage; I AM (ego eimi). Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50; trans.)
I AM was passing by them! As God passed by Moses (Ex 33:19-22) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:11), so I AM (Ex 3:14) was passing by them! Mark continues,
“Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:51-52).
They didn’t get it! They were spiritually dull! They saw Jesus provide food for thousands. They saw Jesus walk on the water! They saw Jesus stop the storm. They were amazed, but they didn’t understand. Mark puts it all together as a unit: the feeding, the bread, I AM passing by. Jesus is God come as the Shepherd of the sheep. He is the manna in the wilderness. He is the shepherd through the water, the Exodus. Job says,
“Who alone stretches out the heavens
And tramples down the waves of the sea;
11 “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him;
Were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him (Job 9:8, 11).
God did, and the disciples didn’t.
The unbelief is immediately evident in the Pharisees (section C). They observe Jesus’ disciples eating with ritually unclean hands. They don’t even discuss the thousands fed or that Jesus is the Bread from Heaven. Their concern is that the disciples don’t wash their hands! Jesus responds first that the Pharisees in their obsession for their traditions are in blatant disregard to the actual Old Covenant Law! They are covenant breakers. And second, adherence to food laws and the traditions don’t begin to go deep enough. It is the heart of man that defiles, the sinful heart of man. Again in C’, they come out to Jesus and ask for a “sign from heaven” (Mark 8:11)!
The discussion of bread continues in D (Mark 7:24-30) and D’. Jesus went into the house of a Gentile, Syrophoenician. The mother begged Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus responded that it wouldn’t be appropriate to give the dogs the bread that belonged to the children! That is what the modern reader hears. Actually, Jesus said,
“it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (kunarion)” (Mark 7:27; trans.).
She understood and responded,
“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28)!
Jesus was inviting her faith when He said it wouldn’t be appropriate to give the bread to the household pet! In those precious words, He in invited her into the house! And she went in! He responded to her faith, and delivered her daughter from the demon. In the parallel D’, the disciples forgot to take the bread in the boat with them. Jesus warns them against the unbelieving leaven of the Pharisees, but they only heard more talk about not having the bread! Like little children He walks them through what they had just seen. How much bread after the 5,000? How much bread after the 4,000? But they still did not understand!
The failure of the disciples to understand and see what Jesus was doing, and their inability to bear testimony as His apostles would not stop this King. Part E and E’ show that He is the one who heals the mute and blind. In E (Mark 7:31-36) He heals the opened the ears and loosened the tongue of the deaf mute. In E’ (Mark 8:22-26), Jesus healed the eyes of the blind man. In both E and E’ Jesus doesn’t just immediately heal the deaf or the blind; He takes a process to heal them. So, with His disciples, Jesus heals them in stages. But they will hear and understand; they will see! And they will boldly proclaim King Jesus and His Kingdom!
Already confessions of faith have begun in F and F’. In F (Mark 7:37), the crowd confessed,
“He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (Mark 7:37).
Then in F’, Jesus asks the disciples who people say He is; then He asks who they say He is. Peter answered,
“You are the Christ” (Mark 7:29)!
Though they saw darkly, they did see! For God has come,
“Take courage, fear not.
Behold, your God will come with vengeance;
The recompense of God will come,
But He will save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy” (Isa 35:5-6).
William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (NICNT)
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